Folau brothers: "It's been our dream to play footy together one day"

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Like most big brothers, Israel Folau felt like he should keep an eye out for sibling John when they turned up for their first day of Waratahs training together this week.

It was actually Israel who was starting pre-season late as a returning Wallaby - John began with NSW prior to Christmas - but family instincts run deep.

"For me it almost felt like you were going to high school and your younger brother is just starting high school, you kind of have to look after him,” Israel Folau told RUGBY.com.au. 

"That’s how I felt. Make sure he had his lunch, I had to bring his lunch and stuff. Monday and Tuesday was like that. But I forget he is a grown man and he has kids. I don’t even have any kids.”

Folau the elder isn’t even joking about the packed lunch. 

The Wallaby star usually brings some extra fruit and a smoothie along in the morning, and this week he made two.

Such is the excitement the 29-year-old feels about the possibility of playing with his little bro for the first time in their lives.

Following in the 2013 footsteps of Israel (via his stint in AFL), John, 24, switched to rugby last year from rugby league ranks, where he'd played for Parramatta at under 20s and NRL level, and also for Tonga in an international fixture.

An injury-hampered NRC campaign for the Sydney Rays saw John only get two games under his belt, but it was enough for Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson to initially throw the 112kg winger a trial over summer, and then sign him on a one-year contract.

It has set up the fascinating prospect of two Folaus playing in the Waratahs’ back three in Super Rugby.

"It is very exciting. It has always been a dream of ours to hopefully, if we do get the opportunity, to play together, it will be unreal,” Israel said.

"It’s great to train with him and be in the same team. It has never happened before so it’s very exciting.

"We’d never crossed paths to be in the same team, or even play against each other.”

Israel Folau moved out of home to play for Melbourne Storm when John was only 12 but both remember the intense family footy games when they were growing up.

John is the bigger guy now by ten kilograms but he jokes was flat-out surviving “all the cheap shots” from Israel when they were younger.

John Folau. Photo: Getty Images"I remember growing up with knee footy in our lounge room and it used to get heated,” John said.

"Being the youngest I was just trying to keep my guard up. I used to beaten around a lot. 

"When the opportunity came to play at the Waratahs, I jumped at it. The last time I spoke to you guys I said I wanted to play with him and it’s a step closer now. We actually trained for the first time together this week … if I get the opportunity to play alongside him it is something I will remember for the rest of my life."

Understandably, Israel is a huge role model for John and it was his brother’s enjoyment of rugby that helped him decide to pursue the same code-hop challenge.

He is still adapting but John has a decent tutor on the subject available every day at training. 

"It’s been a big help actually. If there are things I don’t understand about the game, I can go to him (Israel) and he usually just tells me to back myself and back my ability,” John said.

Israel Folau has won the Matthew Burke Cup. Photo: Getty ImagesIsrael Folau used his natural athleticism to survive on the field while learning the game, and says he thinks John has the ability to do the same as he figures out the positional demands. 

Gibson hopes John Folau can push for a wing spot, and potentially help plug the 15-try gap left by the departed Taqele Naiyavaoro this season.

"It’s obviously totally different from playing rugby league. There are a lot more details playing the game of rugby,” Israel Folau said.

"I believe he has the ability to play the game naturally, it’s about learning the fundamentals of the game; where you need to be, positioning in whatever position you are playing. It’s the same thing I went through when I first came in.

"The best way to learn is to go out there and throw yourself in by playing the game, and make mistakes. That’s the best way to learn. They help you grow from strength to strength in helping you play the game, and picking the game up.

"I think we are similar. A lot of teammates say to us, or people in general, they say we have similar traits.”

Living up to the famous Folau name could be a very tough gig, but John said he doesn’t worry about the inevitable comparisons.

"We are two different people,” he said.

"To other people there may be expectations, but I am just focussed on doing my best, and working hard every day.”